From despair to hope on the shepherd’s field: listening to stories of child detention

In October I joined an MCC-led learning tour travelling through Palestine and Israel to learn about the conflict and to see the realities on the ground first hand. Our schedule was composed of an interesting mix of visiting MCC partners, travelling through the region to see the differences between occupation and relative freedom, and tourist spots including the holy sites.

During one of the mornings, we made our way from Bethlehem to visit the YMCA, an MCC partner, in neighbouring Beit Sahour. The YMCA is fortunate to have offices on one of the shepherd’s fields, a site where the shepherds may have heard the angels proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth.

Photo of YMCA Beit Sahour

The front entrance of the YMCA in Beit Sahour. (Photo/Craig Neufeld)

We arrived at the YMCA office early and strolled over the shepherd’s field and briefly climbed into an old cave, which shepherds may have used for their sheep at night. While the shepherd’s field was charming, our visit to the YMCA had a very different tone: one of a hard and somber reality. The YMCA offers rehabilitation programs to former child detainees. Every year hundreds of Palestinian children are arrested by the Israeli army, detained, and often serve a prison sentence at an adult detention center or military prison.

Part of our visit to the YMCA was to meet some individuals who had gone through the rehabilitation program. As we finished our introductory session with one of the psychological counselors who works with children, youth and young adults in the program, we all looked at the doors as seven young men walked in.

In that moment I was struck by the reality of the concept of child detention. Before going on this trip, I had been working with MCC’s A Cry for Home campaign for about four months. I had read testimonies and reports, but meeting people who had experienced arrest and detention as a child humbled me. I wondered, how hard it was for them to come and talk to us about their experience and I felt myself cringing, as the first person started to share.

I listened to each heartbreaking story about arrest, mistreatment by military personnel, torture, and physical, emotional, and mental injuries. Detentions and prison sentences ranged from three to eighteen months. While each experience was different, many commonalities appeared.

Each person spoke of an emptiness, hopelessness, and the loss of seeing a future past the experience of the detention. One young man, who is now 17 years old, shared how he was in a vulnerable psychological state when he was released. When he was arrested by the Israeli military, his arm was already in a cast and during the ensuing interrogation the cast was taken off and under torture, his arm was broken for a second time. To this day, he has not regained full mobility. To make matters worse, after his three-month detention and release, military personnel continued to show up at his house, disrupting his reentry into normal life and retraumatizing him. He shared, “When I closed my eyes, I saw them coming to arrest me… I thought I would always see that.”

Another young man shared how he was arrested and detained for two days when he was thirteen years old. At fourteen he was shot in the leg right before he was arrested again. At the beginning of his eighteen-months prison sentence, he spent 6 weeks handcuffed to a hospital bed while recovering from that major injury. When he came to the YMCA, he remembered being completely disillusioned. He could not imagine a future after what he had been through.

While these young men briefly described their detention experience, some not going into much detail, they each made a point of telling us about how far they had come since then. Every-day-life seemed impossible after their release, but they now shared with pride that they were in university, employed, in a trade apprenticeship, or working toward having their own business venture.

Photo of the Young Men

A photo of the seven young men accompanied by a YMCA staff member. Identity of the persons in this picture is not shared publicly. (Photo/Craig Neufeld)

These young men underwent significant psychological counselling, and some received vocational training. The pride of accomplishment and hope for a good future was shining in their eyes. However, overcoming trauma in one way or another is not where the story ended for them. These young men are part of a leadership program, designed to allow them to give back to their communities, focusing on matters such as capacity building, communications tools, and teaching others about positive leadership.

After all of the young man had shared parts of their story, one of them raised his hand, signaling that he wished to add something. He looked around the room and said: “The children of the past are the leaders of the future!”

_________

Later, when my group debriefed about the experience at the YMCA, we reflected on the hardship of what these young men had gone through, and marveled at their resilience, positive outlook, and motivation to help others. But we also wondered what their lives would have been like without occupation, without conflict, without the trauma of arrest, interrogation and detention.

We also remembered all of the children and youth who either have not had access to psychological care, or those who have not receive help in time. Since 2000, over 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and detained by the Israeli military, 500-700 each year.

Photo of Shepherd's field

The shepherd’s field behind the YMCA building. (MCC Photo/Leona Lortie)

In this advent season, as the YMCA possibly stands on the very ground where the angels appeared to the shepherds in Beit Sahour, let us remember their message of hope and comfort, “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people… Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (KJV, Luke 2:10, 14).

At this moment in time, peace with justice has not yet come to Palestine and Israel as the conflict persists, but there is hope and the young men we met at the YMCA are determined to not only be part of a better, peaceful future, but they are actively working toward it.

Let us join them.

ACT Today: Sign this petition to urge the Canadian federal government to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and hold Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees.

 

For more information and resources on the context in Palestine and Israel, and the work of MCC’s partners, see MCC’s A Cry for Home Campaign.

 

Leona Lortie is the Public Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office.

Advertisements

Ottawa Office Roundup: Spotlight on Gaza

By Rebekah Sears

The MCC Ottawa Office blog is trying something new, with a semi-regular News Roundup! We want to take the opportunity to share news stories, reports and resources from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing more background information and context on the countries and themes where MCC and our partners are working. We also want to speak to the role and responsibilities of the Canadian government, highlight what MCC is doing, and outline how you can get involved! The articles are drawn from a variety of sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Globe and Mail photo

A Palestinian child plays in an impoverished area of the Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2018. MAHMUD HAMS/GETTY IMAGES

For this first Roundup we want to highlight the deteriorating situation in Gaza, primarily because our partners have reached out, speaking to the growing urgency and desperation of the situation and the people of Gaza. More than one million people in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs. The blockade that Israel imposed in 2007 has devastated the economy and brought unspeakable hardship for Palestinians. Now, as recent funding cuts from UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestine, take hold—life for many is going from bad to worse.

A broad look at the everyday realities

Israel-Palestinian conflict: Life in the Gaza Strip, BBC, May 2018

In May 2018 the world was watching as numbers of causalities and deaths in Gaza peaked – this BBC article took the opportunity to outline the significant daily challenges within Gaza, most directly connected to the blockade, including: freedom of movement, the economy, schools on the verge of closure, insufficient access to essential medicines, food and water, and extremely limited electricity.

Israel tightens Gaza blockade, civilians bear the brunt, Oxfam, July 2018

In mid-2018, Israel tightened the blockade on Gaza even further, exacerbating the above-mentioned concerns, and it is the civilians of Gaza that are bearing the biggest brunt. In this report, Oxfam and others outline the realities and impacts for the people of Gaza, it provides a list of recommended actions for the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, as well as the international community, of which most seek to address root causes of the situation, with a long-term view.

Long-Lasting impacts and the youth of Gaza

Gaza economy in crisis: World Bank report warns that it’s in ‘free fall’, Middle East Eye, via World Bank, September 2018

The recent report from the World Bank talks about a crippling and unsustainable economy in ‘free fall’, stifled by a more than 10-year blockade, as well as the impacts for Gaza’s youth, where the unemployment rate has risen to 70% despite high levels of post-secondary education.

Generation of children in Gaza on the brink of a mental health crisis, new research shows, Save the Children, June 2018

In Gaza, a generation of children is growing up knowing little else but conflict: a blockade, regular drone attacks and air strikes, the loss of home, or worse, the loss of family and friends. As the humanitarian situation worsens, reports like this one continue to draw attention to the long-lasting impacts of trauma and violence on children.

How to move forward: Addressing structural issues, and not just humanitarian issues

Cash-Strapped Gaza and an Economy in Collapse Put Palestinian Basic Needs at Risk, World Bank, September 2018

Although humanitarian and development support for Gaza is helping to meet urgent immediate needs, there is a need to address some of the root causes and structural factors. This report from the World Bank outlines the limits of humanitarian aid to bring real and sustainable change and growth to Gaza and outlines the push to move beyond merely sustaining life and the conditions as they exist today, to see long-lasting impacts and movement for the better.

Canada’s role and responsibilities, and moving forward

Canada pledges $50-million for vulnerable Palestinians, Globe and Mail, July 2018

In July, the Canadian government pledged $50-million to support vulnerable Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza. This announcement followed the Minister of International Development visiting the region, earlier in the month.

Canada gives $50-million to UN Palestinian refugee agency that U.S. calls flawed, Globe and Mail, October 2018

In order to help fill the urgent funding gap as a result of cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which represents Palestinian refugees, Canada and other countries have pledged significant additional support for the situation. Of the $50-million pledged, $38-million will support programs in Gaza.

Why Canadian aid won’t really help Palestinian entrepreneurs, The Conversation, August 2018

As the previous section highlighted, aid is not enough. Humanitarian and development support will help sustain life, while continuing to uphold the current structures, which are stifling growth and long-term improvements in the lives and living conditions of the people of Gaza. While the increases in Canadian humanitarian aid are a positive step, they fall short of addressing the structures that sustain the humanitarian crisis.

MCC invites you to take action: Contact your Member of Parliament!

End the suffering of Gaza, MCC Ottawa Campaign, updated, Oct 2018

We, alongside our partners are calling for continued humanitarian support. But beyond this support, in order to build a peaceful and sustainable future for Gaza, we are calling for the end to the Israeli over a decade-long blockade, which is at the root of so much of the situation in Gaza. In 2018, as the blockade tightens, the humanitarian situation deteriorates.

ACT Today: Urge your MP to show compassion for Gaza! Ask him or her to:

  • Insist to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister on continued humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza, but, more critically, that Canada support an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
  • Support policies in keeping with Canada’s official commitment to promote the human rights of all people, including Palestinians and Israelis.

For more information and resources on the context in Palestine and Israel, and the work on MCC’s partners, see MCC’s A Cry for Home Campaign.

Rebekah Sears is the MCC Ottawa Office’s Policy Analyst

“Injustice anywhere…” Liberation Theology from Canada and the US to Palestine and Israel

by Rebekah Sears

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1964).

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a conference entitled Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine, hosted by Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) in St Paul Minnesota. It was energizing and stirring to gather with so many others focused on justice and peace-focused solutions, coming from across the US and Canada sharing information, strategies and stories of hope.

What really stood out to me was the strong emphasis from the presenters and organizers on the natural connections between peace and justice issues and the work in the US, Canada, and Palestine and Israel. This emphasis elevated the voices of people standing up against systemic oppression and injustice from Canadian and US governments – Standing Rock and Ferguson, including Black Lives Matter, to name a few – and how these voices for justice so easily connect to the voices of Palestinians working for justice.

Fosna group pic

Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine group photo, Photo Credit: Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fosnalive/

As the conference was based in the US, the specific examples were from the US context, but it doesn’t take much to make the connections to issues in Canada, especially of Indigenous peoples.

However, the focus of this conference was not to draw attention away from the important and urgent work in Palestine and Israel, but to:

  • Encourage people in Canada and the US to see and act against injustice in their own backyards as well as in Palestine and Israel;
  • Gain a deeper and personal understanding of the injustices facing Palestinians by seeing similar patterns and actions of oppression closer to home;
  • Seek solidarity around the world in the fight against oppression, including from a faith perspective, as something prophetic – with liberation theologies movements popping up around the world, unified in their goals of human dignity for all, especially for those who are oppressed.

These proclamations were clear throughout the conference, but I especially want to focus on two presentations early into the conference. In both, personal experiences of injustice at home lead to a greater understanding, empathy and solidarity with those in Palestine and Israel.

In her keynote address, Reverend Traci Blackmon, representing the United Church of Christ in Missouri, took us back to 2014 in Ferguson, particularly the aftermath of the shooting on an unarmed black young man, Michael Brown, by police officer Darren Wilson. What followed was a rising of justice-focused indignation from the community of Ferguson.

traci-blackmon

Reverend Traci Blackmon, representing the United Church of Christ in Missouri, Photo courtesy of FOSNA https://www.fosna.org

Reverend Blackmon witnessed police forces constructing walls, barriers and checkpoints around community protestors across Ferguson. Meanwhile the protestors were also met with police in riot gear, with tanks and with tear gas.

At the same time, Reverend Blackmon, and other witnesses talked about a phenomenon happening on social media. Peace and justice activists from Palestine and Israel began reaching out, first to show solidarity with activists in Ferguson, but also to offer non-violent practical advice. They shared how protestors could protect themselves from the effects of tear gas attacks, among other things. For Reverend Blackmon and others this was a turning point, opening not just points of connection, but a deep understanding for the situation and work of others half a world away.

Reverend Jim Bear Jacobs, member of Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation and parish associate at Church of All Nations Presbyterian Church, gave the opening remarks of the conference. Before he started thinking about the situation in Palestine and Israel, he first had to come to terms with his own history, a history of colonialism, oppression, land loss, and erasure of the history of his people. The faith tradition where he grew up did not acknowledge any of this and emphasized that he needed to be Christian first, and to downplay his Indigenous identity and history.

When coming to terms with his own history, Reverend Bear’s faith also shifted, to focus on what Christ and the Scriptures say about standing with the oppressed. It helped solidify his own involvement with Indigenous justice movements in Minnesota, and across the country, leading to his involvement at Standing Rock.

jimbearjacobs

Reverend Jim Bear Jacobs, photo credit, Church of All Nations Presbyterian Church

While standing in solidarity for the protection of Indigenous lands and resources, demonstrators were met with water cannons, tear gas, and police in riot gear. At the same time messages of support for Indigenous communities came in from around the world, including from Palestinians. As with Reverend Blackmon, this opened a whole new perspective for Reverend Jacob to see the similarities of the struggle, and the urgency to speak out.

So, what does all this mean for our responsibility and possible response? I will bring in a quote from Reverend Traci Blackmon as a guide: “People are becoming disposable in the policies. We must see people. It’s not just physical or political constructs, but theological constructs.”

In light of this, may we see the humanity in others, at home and around the world, including in Palestine and Israel; may our actions and policies at home and abroad be informed by human experience; and may we have the eyes to see injustice in its many forms, all while continuing to challenge ourselves to speak out wherever we see it.

Rebekah Sears is the Policy Analyst for the MCC Ottawa Office.

Human rights and the occupation of the Palestinian territory

by Leona Lortie, Public Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator, MCC Ottawa Office

In early September, instead of enjoying one of the few warm Winnipeg fall weekends, I spent my time knee-deep in legal conversations relating to Israel, Palestine and international law. It was an interesting, challenging, albeit at times despairing, weekend.

Experts from Canada, the U.S. and the Middle East came together to discuss the complex issues surrounding Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Sessions were broken up in topics relating to human rights law, solutions for the conflict, the role of Western governments, recent events in the region, and of course the role of international law.

One presenter who stood out for me was Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights in the Palestinian territory, who also opened the symposium with the keynote speech. Throughout the weekend he skillfully walked participants through the legal status and responsibilities of Israel as an occupying power over the Palestinian territories and introducing the four corners of the law of occupation.

Lynk argued that Israel has breached each one of the fundamental tenets of this international law. The occupying power, according to the law of occupation, must acquire no right or title of the occupied territory, return the occupied territory to its people within a reasonable period of time, rule in the best interest of the protected people living in the occupied territory, and act in good faith.

If we accept that Israel has breached the law of occupation, does this mean that it is violating international law? If so, has Israel then moved from a legal prolonged occupation to an illegal occupation?

I was particularly interested to hear discussions about Canada’s human rights record and our country’s rights and obligations within the international humanitarian rights framework. Canada does not have a great human rights record in general terms and economic relations with foreign governments seem to frequently impact our efforts in defending human rights internationally.

In the context of Canada’s rights and obligations under the Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, our country’s legal obligation is to take measures to put an end to on-going violations against international humanitarian law. It would be tough to argue that Canada has taken any significant measures when considering the on-going human rights violations against Palestinians.

DSC_0102 No Occupation

Israelis protest in Jerusalem

The role of civil society was especially highlighted during the final sessions and question periods. When our governments do not take measures to put an end to human rights violations, or the occupation of the Palestinian territory, we, the civil society, are the only ones left to act.

This left me reflecting on my role, as the average person in Canada. What options do I have to defend the human rights of Palestinians? I was inspired by closing words of the conference organizers who called upon us to find ways to fill the void of government action. Dr. Dean Peachy, a human rights professor at the University of Winnipeg, concluded, “It is not my place to suggest a solution, but it is my place to stand up for human rights. I am not neutral, I am for justice, I am for human rights, and I am for non-violent peacebuilding.”

If you are, like me, looking for ways to fill the void, one option would be to write a letter to your MP here or to learn more about the challenges Palestinians are facing living under occupation here.

From a faith Nakba to a theology of liberation

By Rebekah Sears

“When we most needed our faith, it wasn’t there for us,” says Cedar Duaybis, recalling the deep pain of the NakbaDuaybis is one of the co-founders of Sabeel, a Palestinian Ecumenical Christian Liberation Theology Center. She was speaking to three of us from MCC’s advocacy offices who were visiting our staff and partners in Palestine and Israel this past March.

Nakba means catastrophe in Arabic. It refers to the period from 1947 to 1949 when over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by Zionist militias in connection with the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Over 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed in the process, thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands shut out from their homeland indefinitely. On May 15 every year, Palestinians commemorate Nakba Day and again call for justice.

But Nakba is much more than losing one’s homeland, which in itself was and continues to be so devastating. It is also about losing an identity, as family members, friends and communities were separated in the chaos and scattered across the region. And for many Palestinian Christians it was also about losing the depth of their faith. That is what Duaybis was talking about – the Faith Nakba. As she puts it, “[O]ur Holy Book was used as justification for our suffering.”

IMG_6423

Sabeel (Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center) co-founder and author Cedar Duaybis speaks about the faith Nakba and the impacts on Palestinian Christian communities. MCC photo/Doug Hostetter, March 2018

For decades Christian Zionists, especially in the West, have used the promises of God to Abraham and conquest narratives in Joshua and other biblical books, to justify the actions of the modern State of Israel, despite the displacement, dispossession and suffering inflicted on Palestinians. Many Palestinian Christians could find little hope in the Scriptures for changing their current situation. Duaybis was a young girl at the time of the Nakba, but the memory of that time and the years of a faith struggle among the community of Christians that followed have shaped her whole and vocation life.

Palestinian Christians, like Duaybis and so many others, have long felt ignored or forgotten by the global Christian community. Their numbers are small, but their voices cry out for justice and solidarity. Plus, most Palestinian Christians, like the Rev. Dr. Munthur, Dean of Bethlehem Bible College, remind us that “The Palestinian Christian struggle is the Palestinian struggle.” In other words, like their fellow Palestinians, the principal struggle of Palestinian Christians and churches is the struggle against occupation.

Yet in those first few decades after the Nakba, the Palestinian Church had developed almost a theology of resignation.

During the First Intifada (1987-1992) Palestinians began resisting the occupation en masse, predominantly through non-violent means. At that time, a group of Palestinian Christians, led by the Rev. Naim Ateek, Canon of St George’s Anglican Cathedral, began meeting after Sunday worship to talk theology and the realities of their context.

Like Duaybis, Rev. Ateek experienced the Nakba as a child and the memories of that experience have been forever ingrained in his psyche. He called these Sunday reflection times “theological debriefings” – opportunities to ask the tough questions, to explore the meaning of Christian faith in a context of suffering, and to challenge the idea that God desired their meek resignation to that suffering.

naim-ateek cfos

The Rev. Canon Naim Ateek, co-founder of Sabeel, a Palestinian Liberation Theology Center, Photo, Canadian Friends of Sabeel: https://friendsofsabeel.ca/event/cross-canada-book-tour-with-naim-ateek/

It was during these meetings that people re-discovered Jesus and his response to the military occupation of his day. They encountered Jesus’ proclamation of an upside-down kingdom founded on justice, human dignity for all, and active nonviolent resistance, rather than political and military might or passive resignation.

It was out of these times of reflection that Sabeel was born as an ecumenical movement to resist the injustice of occupation and oppression as a vocation of faith, nonviolence and the search for a peace with justice for all in the region. Rev. Ateek, Duaybis and the other founders of Sabeel recall their profound awakening and their renewed hope in the Christian faith.

These past few weeks Rev. Ateek has been traveling across Canada, speaking to Canadians from the West Coast to Atlantic Canada, while launching his new book on the history and theology of this grassroots movement: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice and the Palestine-Israel Conflict. Several of us were able to join Rev. Ateek in Toronto, and other colleagues heard him on his various stops across the country. Despite facing harsh opposition, his message spread.

The essence of his message is this: “Indeed, Christ is our liberator, and God in Christ wills that we should be free. Therefore, we need to stand firm and must not submit to anything that dehumanizes or enslaves us… Our response to suffering must extend beyond meeting basic needs to naming the injustices that perpetuate suffering, challenging political systems, and acting to ensure a more just and equitable world” (p. 6). While at the same time, following in step behind the non-violent teachings of Jesus. “For us, walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and using his non-violent methods can make a difference in spite of the thorns and hurdles along the road” (p. 5).

Across the world many people of faith living under injustice and oppression have found a liberating and lifegiving word in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Rooted in a deep commitment to Jesus, they have given birth to movements of non-violent resistance, liberation and justice. Their voices have been central in the resistance against Apartheid in South Africa, in the rallying cry against oppressive regimes across Latin America, and in the diners and buses of the civil rights movement in the American South.

As Rev. Ateek says, “When Palestinian Christians recognized and accepted [Jesus Christ’s] full humanity, it was a turning point that drove us directly back to the Gospels to study Jesus’s life and teachings. Such an exercise inspired and encouraged us to commit ourselves to the work for justice and peace” (p. 42).

IMG_8892

The sun rises over the Old City, Jerusalem, March, 2018, MCC photo, Doug Hostetter

Now Rev. Ateek and our other Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ look to us to stand with them in their struggle for justice and liberation. How will we respond? In our churches, in our communities, with our Canadian government policies?

Bekah Sears is the Policy Analyst for MCC Ottawa

See also MCC Canada’s Cry for Home Campaign in Palestine and Israel for more resources and ways to get involved.

 

Voices of the Peacebuilders, Part 1: Women as Peacebuilders

By Rebekah Sears

This is the first of a two-part series called the Voices of the Peacebuilders, on the importance of magnifying the voices of individuals and organizations working at the grassroots, within communities. Very often these voices are overlooked or excluded from high-level policy tables when it comes to resolving conflict and building peace around the world.

In October, I was in my hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick where I gave two public lectures at the University of New Brunswick. This two-part series will outline points from each lecture and provide a video link. The first, held on October 16 and hosted by the Faculty of Education, was entitled: “From the Grassroots to the Negotiating Tables: The Case for Women as Peacebuilders.”

Women are so often excluded from the high-level peace negotiating tables and their efforts for peace are largely ignored in the mainstream news, despite making up half of the population, and often bearing the brunt of conflict. Yet this has not stopped women from being innovators and champions for peace within their communities, including within MCC’s partners.

We must bring these voices to the table and make the case for women as innovators and leaders, working for peace, from the grassroots to the negotiating table.

Join me on a brief world tour to see snapshots of some of this work, and let me introduce you to some of these women peacebuilders, from Colombia to Nigeria and from South Sudan to Palestine and Israel.

Mampujan Colombia: Weaving history and speaking peace

mampujan 2

A quilt depicting the forced displacement of 2000. MCC Colombia’s office in Bogota.

On Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, meet the Women Weavers of Dreams and Flavors, a group of women from the small Afro-Colombian community of Mampujan. In 2000 this entire community was forcibly displaced, as part of Colombia’s 50+ years armed conflict, leaving the community traumatized.  In response, MCC’s partner, Sembrandopaz, together with the community, developed a healing project in which women, working together, sewed quilts, depicting the story of their displacement. As the women stitched, they shared their hurts, and, in doing so, they not only found healing, but a passion to work for justice.

mampujan

Women Weavers of Dreams and Flavours of Peace of Mampuján win a national peace prize in Colombia, 2015. Photo, Anna Vogt, thellamadiaries.com

The women then decided to create a series of quilts, depicting the entire history of their community, including ancestors arriving on slave ships, independence, forced displacement, and dreams for the future. They have shared these quilts with other Colombian communities who have also undergone trauma in the armed conflict, and the women of Mampujan have received national and international recognition for these efforts. Much work remains, but the women of Mampujan have led the way in a movement for healing, peace and justice. Read more about Mampujan’s story here.

Jos, Nigeria: Inter-faith bridgebuilding for a common goal of peace

amina2

Amina Ahmed (second from the right) with MCC staff (left to right) Charles Kwuelum (MCC Washington, D.C.), Kati Garrison (MCC UN) and Bekah Sears (MCC Ottawa) on a 2016 visit to Jos, Nigeria. Photo, Ben Weisbrod.

In Jos, Nigeria we meet Amina Ahmed, a local leader in interfaith peacebuilding, and an avid supporter of MCC partner Emergency Preparedness Response Team (EPRT), a joint Christian and Muslim organization responding to crises by addressing conflict at its roots. Because Jos is on the dividing line, of sorts, between the Christian South and Muslim North in Nigeria, it has often been at the epicenter of multiple acute outbursts of violence between Christians and Muslims, creating deep animosity. Yet Amina, along with others, are seeking to change these dynamics and bring people together in peace.

amina 1

Amina Ahmed, director of a women’s peace organization, leads a nonviolence training supported by MCC in Jos, Nigeria, 2015. MCC photo, Dave Klassen.

But Amina was not always a leader in these efforts. As a Muslim, Amina was traumatized by violence carried out by Christians against Muslims, including her brother’s murder in 2001. For months she felt deep rage and fear, wanting revenge, seeking out groups planning violent attacks against Christians. But, at her father’s urging, Amina attended an interfaith peace workshop. Seeing both Muslims and Christians working together for peace, Amina’s heart was transformed. Since then she has become a champion for peace across religious or ethnic divides in Nigeria. Read more about Amina’s story here.

Rumbek, South Sudan: “The weak become strong”

peace-club-member-speaking-to-local-women-about-conflict-resolution-e1495631693311

Loreto Peace Club member speaking to local women about conflict resolution, Rumbek, South Sudan, 2017. Photo, Candacia Greeman.

On to Rumbek, South Sudan, where leadership in peacebuilding comes from a group perceived as the “weakest” in society, i.e. girls and young women. South Sudan has been engulfed in civil war since 2013, displacing millions and civilians are often the deliberate targets of violence. But there are also deep cycles of violence and oppression within communities, particularly targeting girls. This includes early forced marriage, deeply tied to the importance of cattle ownership. Male relatives force girls into marriage to reclaim the cattle debt the girls’ fathers would have accumulated for their own marriage dowries.

loreto-peace-club-members

Loreto Peace Club members, Rumbek, South Sudan, 2017. Photo, Candacia Greeman

At the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, MCC supports peace clubs aimed at fostering inter-personal conflict resolution skills, in the recognition that lasting peace begins at the community level. Peace club members then initiated community-based trauma healing and reconciliation groups, within the wider community called Listening Circles: safe spaces to share trauma and grievances, while fostering reconciliation. An MCC worker describes these young women as “a source of hope for South Sudan, and a reason to hope in South Sudan.” Read more about Loreto peace clubs here.

Nazareth, Palestine and Israel: Stitching reconciliation and standing up for human rights

The final stop takes us to a church basement in Nazareth with Violette Khoury, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and the director of MCC partner Sabeel’s Nazareth office. Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 21% of the population of the country. Although Palestinians are citizens, Violette describes state laws which discriminate against them with respect to land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights and more. But most of all, Violette laments both deteriorating relations in between Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Nazareth, as well as a dominant narrative that denies the history and roots of the Palestinian people in the region.

Violette Khoury

Violette Khoury shows traditional Palestinian embroidery to MCC visitors from Canada. Khoury is the director of Sabeel Nazareth, the Nazareth office of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an MCC partner that provides a theological and spiritual resource for the Palestinian church. Violette leads a program that brings together local people, particularly women, of different faith traditions, to share and preserve their common Palestinian heritage with activities like embroidery. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

In response, Violette started a project for local women, both Christians and Muslims and even Jewish Israelis, to learn ancient stitching techniques that were once commonplace in Nazareth. In this project Violette hopes to bring unity and reconciliation, all while reclaiming the history of the Palestinian people in the region. She says, “There is denial of us being a people and having a heritage. But we do exist; we have roots; we are here!” In addition, by inviting Jewish Israelis she hopes to extend reconciliation efforts and cross barriers that seem insurmountable. Read more of the context in which Violette works here.

Conclusion: Will we follow their lead?

On November 1, 2017, after many consultations and civil society and parliamentary input, the Canadian government launched its second Canadian National Action Plan (C-NAP) on implementing the UN’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. This is hopeful news.

The first objective of the CNAP – one which our Ottawa Office staff will be watching closely– calls for the “increase of meaningful participation of women, women’s organizations and networks in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict state-building.”

In the meantime, in addition to monitoring governmental action on women and peacebuilding, our task is clear. We continue learning, telling the stories, spreading the word, and standing in solidarity with these and other peacebuilders around the world, making the case for women peacebuilders, from the grassroots all the way to the negotiating tables.

Watch the full lecture here 

Ottilia 1

Dr. Ottilia Chareka (Photo St FX University) This lecture, the 6th Annual Dr. Ottilia Chareka Memorial Lecture in Education and Social Justice was given in her honour. Tragically, Ottilia was killed in 2011. Ottilia was a long-time friend of mine (Rebekah) and I was both humbled and honoured to help carry on her legacy.

By Rebekah Sears, Policy Analyst for the MCC Ottawa Office